When Aerosmith released "Head First" as a free digital download on June 27, 1994, the fledgling technology team at the band's label, Geffen, just wanted to prove that it could be done.

But it was an important moment in the developing landscape of the World Wide Web which ultimately helped carve a solid path for a new distribution method in the music industry. "It was proof of life for digital music," Jim Griffin tells UCR now. Growing up as a hard rock fan outside of Chicago in Park Forest, Illinois, he was thrilled to join the label in 1992 as their first Chief Technology Officer, because they had been putting out recordings by some of his favorite bands, including Aerosmith. 

"Head First" was a leftover track from the band's recording sessions for 1993's Get a Grip that had only been issued as a B-side that year on the European single release of "Eat the Rich." Though the group themselves were not directly involved with the plans to release "Head First," their management -- and band associate John Kalodner -- helped to oversee the project. "He liked the idea and wanted to make sure it was done right," Griffin explains.

It's important to realize that websites weren't the ruling force in this era -- instead, it was internet providers like CompuServe and AOL which held the controlling majority. Certain band members were fans of the developing technology. Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton was an early CompuServe user, who enjoyed going into the chat rooms to interact with the band's fans. He'd even offer corrections when it came to inaccuracies in the stories that the fans were telling about the group's history.   

CompuServe had more than two million customers at the time and reportedly, around 10 thousand of them downloaded "Head First." Entertainment Weekly covered the event, noting that the song "rocks harder than most of Get a Grip," adding that, "Someday, maybe we'll pay to download Aerosmith."

Three years later, Duran Duran became the first group to sell a digital single online with 1997's "Electric Barbarella." David Bowie subsequently founded his own internet provider in 1998, BowieNet, sold his first album digitally in 1999 with the release of  Hours -- and even did a webcast of the recording process for one of the songs. In just a few more blinks of an eye, the digital revolution fully took over and the way fans listened to music changed forever.

Griffin became a leading authority on digital music and was one of seven witnesses who testified at the Senate's Napster hearings in 2000. He shares some memories of how he and his Geffen co-workers brought "Head First" to the world as the first music download from a major record label.

Even though there was an interest in technology inside the Geffen offices, it seems like things were still pretty primitive when you first arrived there.
Websites were not really on our radar at the time. Although we knew what was coming. In fact, we implemented the world’s first intranet. There were no intranets at the time. Nobody would have thought of such a thing. In fact, everything we were doing at Geffen was heretical, within the world of I.T. The parent company across town, Universal Music, was horrified by what we were doing -- and the way we were doing it. They were really angry.

They would call on the phone and say, “Now, you know who you work for, right? Can you get a paycheck and see who signs it? Look at the bottom of it, I’m the guy you work for -- now listen to me. You will not install an ethernet network, you will not use website technology, you will not install internet protocol,” that sort of thing. I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t work for you. I work for David Geffen.” They said, “Well, we own your company.” I said, “I work for David Geffen -- and that little guy can scream louder than all of the big guys you can send over the hill.” In fact, he told me to say that. When I told him that Universal disagreed with everything that we were planning to do, he said, “That’s great. Good work by you. Because I don’t trust them at all. If they don’t like what you’re doing, then it’s fine by me.”

If I understand correctly, things were also really analog at Geffen at that time. There wasn't any major computer usage happening.
No. All analog. They had recently been purchased by Universal. So they knew they had to connect to the company across town. They knew that was coming and they weren’t sure how to do it. They wanted to do it in a way that their companies would appreciate. I came in to talk to their employees. When I was done, I gave them my recommendation. Which by the way, was, “Who cares what they want? If they want a Mac, give ‘em a Mac. If they want a PC, give ‘em a PC.” These are important employees that you have, they should get their choice of computer and hire people who don’t care whether it’s a Mac or PC when they’re networking them. They can talk to each other. “Oh, they can talk to each other, are you sure of that?” I said, “Well, I promise you they can.” They said, “Well then, you come here and do that.” [Laughs] We were doing things differently. Just to be clear, we weren't following a formula or a prescription, the prescription they had written for us would have taken us on an entirely different course. And they were very angry when we released a song online.

What were the challenges when it came to releasing "Head First" online as a digital download?
Oh, [it was all] legal [questions]. How are people going to get paid? What is the definition of a sound recording? What is the definition of a song? How will you pay for the songs that are on these sound recordings? Do they meet the definition of a sound recording? Does that entitle it to a mechanical payment? All around the world, there are a hundred different ways to pay for music. They all require a different standard. It became an enormous issue and it changed my life. I went from being a CTO to a guy who traveled around the world talking in different countries about the revolution in the digital delivery of art.

READ MORE: How Aerosmith Scored Their First No. 1 LP With 'Get a Grip'

Why did you choose to use a WAV file as the audio format?
That was easy. It was the file type that a Windows computer would recognize and play as audio. It had software installed that knew what a WAV file was, so you wouldn’t need to download yet another file. I learned something [later working for] Nokia -- at least, their assumption became mine, which was, if you have to press a button, you lose half of the audience. Every time there’s a button to be pushed, half the audience doesn’t push the button. So at any rate, it made it easy.

Listen to Aerosmith's 'Head First'

What was Aerosmith's involvement?
Well, basically, I had a number of choices before me. I was given a number of discs with sound recordings on them. I was looking for the shortest one. Because the download time would be so great. Most people were on a 14.4 modem at the time.

That’s painful.
Right, so the idea was, let’s make it as brief as we can. In fact, it was maybe a 22 minute download, even with what we did do. I had to cut it very carefully. I noticed that someone online noticed that it cut off a slight bit too early at the end of the song. That’s because we were so savagely trimming. The idea was to make it as easy for the end user as possible.

So really, it didn't even have to be Aerosmith. You had other groups and artists to choose from.
Yes, and "Head First" was the briefest of the ones that I was given. Also, I like Aerosmith. I thought it was a very popular band, so people will appreciate it and it will draw attention.

READ MORE: Top 20 Aerosmith Songs

Ultimately, what do you think the benefits were of releasing "Head First" digitally?
Oh, it was just proof of concept. It was proof of life for digital music. You know, it was the newspaper headlines that followed that indicated how popular it was and how many people were cognizant of it. It worked -- and others would follow suit.

You told me that Aerosmith didn't really come by the offices. What are some of your favorite memories from the bands and artists who did?
By far, it was Kurt Cobain. I was preaching this idea that in a digital world, art need never die and that art can be unusual as well. There's a lot of music that is made that is unusual and it cannot be delivered through analog means. I was looking for examples and so forth. Kurt came to the office with a suitcase in hand. In it, was every DAT tape he had made. He said, "I had someone run a DAT tape every time we did an in-store, every time we did a show. I've got them all here in this suitcase." He said, "I picture a future where every one of these, you can access and give to your girlfriend, a copy of 'All Apologies' every time you want to." He said, "Because that's not something we could sell today. We couldn't print up a bunch of those and put them in a package and transfer them to stores and have them sold." I think the point was that the future would enable you to deliver art that you could never deliver before -- along with the idea that art need never die. You could bring new art to life that you would not otherwise have. That was an example that he had. I very much appreciated that. I remember saying something along the crazy lines of, "Kurt, you could kill two birds with one stone." He stopped me and he said, "Jim, you feed two birds with one seed. You don't kill two birds with one stone." That stuck out to me as being a bit of Kurt Cobain's genius.

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Gallery Credit: Ultimate Classic Rock Staff

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